WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Manager Dusty Baker admitted on Sunday morning that Stephen Strasburg will start for the Washington Nationals on Opening Day. Although Baker had been reluctant to publicize the Nationals’ plans for their rotation to open the season, math gave away the secret. Wednesday afternoon, Strasburg is scheduled to make his next start. Five days after that is April 3, opening day against the Mar
lins at Nationals Park.
“I know you guys can count,” Baker said. “Yeah, he’s slated to start Opening Day.”
By owning up to this, Baker made official what Max Scherzer’s troubled knuckle made likely six weeks ago. Despite his injury trouble being seemingly resolved, it forced the reigning Cy Young Award winner to race the calendar, which he lost. While he was planning not to miss a turn through the rotation, he was a few days short of being ready to start the first game of the season.
The past two Opening Days, Scherzer started for the Nationals. Before his injury, Baker planned for Scherzer to start the third game, but he had a change of plans. The Nationals settled on Strasburg, who last season carried an undefeated record through the all-star break.
“Hey, that’s like having two number ones,” Baker said. “… Opening Day is Opening Day. There’s nothing better. And then you hope that day number two and number three is not a drop-off in attendance and excitement.”
The 28-year-old Strasburg has done this before, from 2012 to 2014. He has a 2.25 ERA in those three starts, all of which lasted at least six innings, during which he struck out nearly a batter an inning. The Nationals won all three of those games, though Strasburg only received credit for one.
“It’s Game 1 of 162 and hopefully some change,” Strasburg said. “So I’ll go out there and hopefully get this season started on the right foot.”
Strasburg has given no indication that he will return to the windup when the regular season begins, even though he has been pitching out of the stretch all spring. The change, he explained earlier this spring, helps him maintain strength and consistency through games, according to The Washington Post. Strasburg feels he is prone to mechanical fluctuations, said reporter Chelsea Janes. After last season ended early for him because of a torn pronator tendon in his throwing arm, both he and the Nationals want to minimize risk of injury as much as possible.
According to The Washington Post, Strasburg has shown no lingering signs of the injury this spring and is no longer throwing from the windup. He has made four official starts and thrown another in a minor league game, making him on par with his teammates not coming off injury.
Strasburg and pitching coach Mike Maddux have tried to reduce his amount of throwing between starts, something to keeping Strasburg healthier than he has been in recent years. Strasburg has made 23 and 24 starts in 2015 and 2016 after he led the National League by making 34 starts in 2014, said Janes.
“There’s something to be said for me personally that I can’t treat any one start over another as being any more important, because that’s when I start to do too much in between,” Strasburg said. “And when I start getting in that habit, I’m not giving myself the best chance to stay healthy and be there for the long haul. I just have to stay healthy, treat it like another outing and do my same routine and listen to my arm.”
The Nationals’ plans for the rest of the week are unclear, as of Sunday. After his start Saturday, Tanner Roark said he would make another on Friday. If that is true, he would be on turn to start again on second game of the season on April 5. Gonzalez, who allowed five runs in five innings Sunday, is also on schedule for that game, but will likely get an extra day of rest and start the fourth or fifth game and then Joe Ross will start the other. For now, the first part of their plan is official, and Strasburg will start the season again.